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The now normal, part 2: Getting your practice future-ready

By John Dodd 

Specialty physician practices make adjustments for the health of their patients and their business.
Lab tech in protective gear checks patient in car
Patients did not go to the doctor as often during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our data showed between a 40 and 85 percent decline in new patients across all specialties. As states lift restrictions, specialty physician practices know they will see an uptick in patients. What makes it challenging to plan for the future is they do not know how large that uptick will be.

Continued Safety Protocols

Practices need to further consider how to adopt social distancing and PPE requirements as more patients come into the office. They must ask: Do we have enough space in the clinic to keep patients safely apart? Practices can extend their hours to safely accommodate fewer patients in their physical space.

Another suggestion is to schedule high-risk patients at certain times and limit others in the office. Specialty physician practices can stagger check-in times to limit the number of people in their office at one time. One oncology practice implemented the procedure of having patients wait in their cars, then texting them an exam room number when that room was ready. Patients proceeded straight to the exam room, bypassing the waiting area.

One of the other things specialty physician practices must consider is their staffing model itself. They need to determine how many new patient consults, which typically take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour for an oncology patient, they can take on. They must consider this workload in light of their existing patients, many of whom will start to return to the clinic for treatments. How many patients can they handle in a day or a week?

Scheduling for Safety

When scheduling, specialty physician practices must take into account new CDC cleaning requirements. Extra time will need to be allotted in between appointments for proper sanitation. For practices that perform surgeries, extended cleaning protocols for the OR can push back schedules, causing a bottleneck of waiting patients in waiting areas.

Bottlenecks in the lab and checkout counter also create safety concerns. One practice added an extra draw station so more patients can get blood work at same time. Another practice placed a scheduler in the chemotherapy suite so patients could make their next appointment right there versus creating a back-up in the front of the office.

Optimizing their staffing solutions software can help practices proactively address some of these scheduling considerations. They need to estimate how many patients they can handle based on the staff they have, taking into account the current patients who may be returning for care after months away. How do they adjust schedules while keeping patients and staff safe? The flexibility to ramp up or ramp down for a potential COVID resurgence and the ability to make incremental changes are critical as specialty physician practices plan for the future.

Financial Adjustments for the Now Normal

Practices must also consider their financial futures as they prepare to take on more patients. If they accepted Medicare loans, they must follow the guidelines for how to spend it and review and understand the payback terms.

As more people become unemployed and lose their healthcare coverage, practices should review their write-off process for uninsured patients. Practices may need to reverify the patients' insurances to ensure they still have coverage and possibly reverify the authorizations for treatments. If patients now lack coverage, will they still offer care to such patients? If so, they need to track their losses with COVID adjustment codes.

Overall, practices need to adjust their financial projections with their current patient volume. This includes accurate ordering of drugs and supplies. Automated ordering systems can cause waste and unnecessary expense. Procurement staff should take the time to update software monthly.

Compliance and planning are also important. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that not all practices had disaster communications and continuity plans, which are essential to a well-run operation. Medicare compliance plans should be updated with COVID-related changes, like telehealth and new codes.

As specialty physician practices assess their future readiness, they must consider their operational safety and financial protocols to make sure they are set up for long-term success.

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Your GPO can guide your practice through this now normal.

About The Author

John Dodd 
Director of Business and Clinical Consulting
ION Solutions
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